Dillon Surname Meaning, History & Origin
Leinster Dillon derived from the Norman family of de
Leon (meaning either “of Lyon” or “of the lion”). There is an old
Irish saying: “All the Dillons descended from Henry de Leon.” But
the Dillon name also came from the anglicization of the Irish O’Duilleain (from Dalian meaning “little blind one”)
in Munster and Connacht.
- Dillon – Bios, Obits, Stories. Dillon history.
- History of the Regiment
Dillon ‘s Regiment in France.
- Dillon Family History. Dillons from Kerry to
The first person to come to Ireland with the Dillon name was Sir Henry
de Leon, from Brittany in France. He had come in 1185,
immediately after the Anglo-Norman invasion, to act as secretary to
Prince John and was awarded large tracts of land. As the de Leon
family multiplied and spread out over the country, it began being
called by its Gaelic form O’Duilleain,which
over time became the anglicized Dillon.
The base for these Dillons was Westmeath where they had built Portlick
castle. In fact they owned so much land there that
popularly known as Dillon’s country. The two main Dillon
ennobled in the 17th century, were:
- the Viscount Dillons who fled
to France after the Jacobite defeat in 1691 and thus lost their Irish
- and the
Roscommon. In addition, the Dillons of Drumreany were
to be found
at Dillon’s Grove, Roscommon in the 18th century.
The Dillon name was and continues to be common in Meath, Westmeath and
France. The Dillons
in exile from Ireland made their mark in France. Sometimes called
“the Irish Dillons,” they mixed in the highest levels of French society.
Sir James Dillon
had fled the Cromwellians and in 1653 he raised the famous Regiment of
Dillon. It was to be led by a Dillon for over a hundred
years. Son Arthur, who fled Ireland after the Jacobite defeat in
1691, served in the French army; as did grandson James who commanded
the Irish Brigade which helped defeat
the English at Fontenoy in 1745.
Theobald Count Dillon became a Field Marshall of France and fought
with Washington in the American War of Independence. When
fighting the Austrians in 1792, he was massacred by his own troops in a
tragic misunderstanding. He lies with Napoleon in the
also fought in the American War of Independence.
But he was accused of being a Royalist and was guillotined
From Dublin in 1744, from the Kilcornan branch of the family, came the
merchant Robert Dillon and his brother Thomas. They purchased the
large Terrefort estate in Blanquefort, Bordeaux from which later came
the Chateau Dillon wines. Robert died in 1764; but his sons
carried on the family name in Bordeaux. One, nicknamed “le beau
Dillon,” was a particular favorite of Marie
made it to America. Possibly the first was Luke Dillon, a Quaker from
Armagh who arrived in Nantucket in 1710. These Dillons were to be
found later in Hopewell, Virginia. Meanwhile Peter Dillon and
Mary Veghte of Somerset county, New Jersey date from the Revolutionary
War period. Other Dillons fought in this war on the French side.
Timothy Dillon also fought in the Revolutionary War and later eked out
a living as a farmer in upstate New York, in what was then Montgomery
county. His son Sidney started work as a water boy for one of
America’s earliest railroads and rose to be President of the Union
Pacific. Another branch of this family moved west to Iowa in
1838. John Forrest Dillon became prominent there as a judge.
Edward Dillon came to Cape Breton in Nova Scotia
with his parents from Ireland in 1787.
At the age of 12, some ten years after his arrival, he was
orphan when the rest of his family bar one sister was slaughtered by
Dillon was an Indian captive for
about five years
and was then set free
by an European trader who noticed
Edward trying to show a squaw how to compass a box. This
trader convinced his owner
him for ammunition and blankets.”
married and settled down at Main-a-dieu.
Australia and New Zealand.
A Dillon family from Tipperary came to Melbourne in 1849. That year John Dillon acquired the Horse
and Jockey Inn at Chiltern some 200 miles north of Melbourne. The inn remained in Dillon hands until
1920. Another John Dillon family from
Tipperary came to the Nelson area in New Zealand in 1870 and then
Melbourne in the 1890’s.
Dillon, a younger son of the Viscount Dillons at Ditchley in
sailed for New Zealand with his family in 1842.
He acquired land to farm in Marlborough’s Waihopai valley. In 1851, on his ninth wedding anniversary, he wrote:
next nine years of our lives, if we should be
spared as long, be as productive of joy and comfort to me as the last
may God give me to be a stay and comfort to her whom above all other
beings, I loved and adore.“
However, two years later he drowned while crossing a
river on his property. Heartbroken, his
wife Fanny and their children returned to Oxfordshire.
But some of the family later returned and Dillons have
continued to live and farm on this land.
Portlick Castle in Westmeath. The Norman
family of De Lion (later Dillon) built Portlick Castle on the shores of
Ree in 1185. During their heyday the
family also had castles at Ballynacliffy, Littleton, and Ballynakill. But Portlick was to be their base and
stronghold for their period of supremacy of almost five hundred years. The original building was remodeled sometime
in the 16th century.
The Dillon family,
however, were devout Catholics who fought in the 1641 Irish rebellion
were banished to Connacht by Cromwell.
After the Restoration in 1663, Thomas Viscount Dillon, the
leader of the
Mayo branch of the family, was able to recover the castle.
But his successor Theobald Dillon was killed
at the battle of Aughrim and the family’s support for King James meant
after his defeat at the Battle of the Boyne, many of them fled to
the Wild Geese. Garret Dillon was the
last Dillon occupier. In 1696 Portlick
castle passed into other hands.
the castle and period extensions have all been extensively renovated to
high standard. Portlick castle is in
fact the only medieval castle in Ireland which has been used
perpetually as a residence.
The Dillons of Roscommon. The Dillon
family which had settled in NW Roscommon and county Mayo were given the
of Earl of Roscommon in 1622. Possibly
the most famous of the family was the 4th Earl, Wentworth
Dillon, who was a noted poet.
Patrick the 11th Earl died in 1816 there was a
problem with the succession as he died without
male heir. From another Dillon line came
Michael Dillon, a captain in the Dublin militia who had died at the
Ross in 1798. It
took his son Michael
James Robert Dillon
ten years to convince the House of Lords that he was entitled to
the earldom. He
however, the last Earl of Roscommon and when he died in 1850 the title
Arthur Dillon and His Daughter Lucie at the Time of the French Revolution. Arthur Dillon, a general in the French army, commanded the Dillon Regiment – which had
led by a Dillon for over a hundred years.
In 1777 he embarked for America with 1,400 men of his regiment,
including four Dillon officers, to fight for France in the American War
Independence. However, his downfall came
during the French Revolution when he was accused of being a Royalist
followed Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette to the guillotine.
daughter Lucie, then married and known as
Lucie Dillon de la Tour du Pin, almost suffered the same fate. But she and her husband were able to escape to
America. They later returned to France
when things had begun to settle down.
Her memoirs make fascinating reading (she has been called the
of her age). They were reassembled in
Caroline Moorehead’s 2009 book Dancing to
Le Beau Dillon. Edward Dillon, nicknamed “le beau Dillon,” was a particular favorite
of Marie Antoinette. He acted out in
many of the games at the Trianon, where he played the “keeper” to Marie
Antionette’s “farmer.” The Comtesse de
Boigne recalled the following incident in her memoirs:
Dillon was beautiful, fat, and
One day he performed in
front of the Queen the figures of a quadrille which was going to be
the ball. Suddenly he turned pale and
fainted. He was placed on a sofa and the
Queen had the impudence to place her hand on her heart to feel if it
Edward revived and turned to
her. He apologized for his indisposition
and said that, because of a wound incurred during the taking of
weaknesses often came on him, especially when he was fasting. The Queen gave him a broth and the courtiers,
jealous of this little success, made out that he had got the better of
Dillon, unlike Marie Antoinette, kept his
head during the French Revolution. He
later served in diplomatic missions abroad.
The Prussian King Frederick William III fell deeply in love with
daughter Georgina while Dillon was on diplomatic service in Dresden.
Luke Dillon in America. Luke Dillon and his wife Susannah were Quakers and were from county Armagh in
Ireland. Luke had come from a poor family
from a well-to-do family. They eloped in
1710 and set off for America.
first to the Quaker colony on Nantucket island off Massachusetts and
1714, moved to Bucks county, Pennsylvania.
Luke died three years later. A
descendant, Alfred Dillon, told the following story.
In the winter of 1717, Luke spent an evening
at the local tavern, got drunk and rode home in a driving snowstorm. On the way he fell from his horse and rolled
into a ditch. His body was not
discovered until a thaw later in the winter. His
last child was born after his death and
was named for him.
Dillons from Ireland to America. James and Ellen Dillon led wandering lives. Maybe
they had not been married back in Tipperary.
Family tradition has it that James Dillon was an employee of the
family, perhaps as a gardener or handyman, when Ellen had become
pregnant. In any case they left their baby
behind with the Goings when they decided to emigrate to Nova Scotia in
James and Ellen later moved to
Massachusetts when, at some time in the mid-1850’s they and their baby
were reunited. But this reunion proved
short-lived. The daughter, having been
given some money by her father, used it to buy a train ticket and ran
After Massachusetts, the
Dillons headed west and lived in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Kansas. James died in Smith county, Kansas. Ellen went onto Washington on the West Coast
James’ death and died in Yakima.
- Sir Henry de Leon was the forebear of the Norman Dillons in Ireland.
- Sir James Dillon fled Cromwell
for France and was the first of the
Dillon French line.
- John Dillon was an Irish Home
Rule activist and the last leader of the Irish parliamentary party before independence.
- Sidney Dillon was an American
railroad executive, President of the Union Pacific Railroad from 1874 to 1884.
- Clarence Dillon, born Clarence Lapowski, was an American financier who grew rich through his Wall
Street company Dillon, Read and Co.
- Matt Dillon is a popular American actor.
Select Dillon Numbers Today
- 10,000 in the UK (most numerous
- 18,000 in America (most numerous in California)
- 17,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Ireland)
Select Dillon and Like Surnames
The English came to Ireland as early as 1170 with Strongbow’s invasion. The invaders – largely Anglo-Norman – stayed and many became large landowners and public officials.
Over time their Norman French names changed to fit the local landscape – le Gras to Grace, de Burgh to Burke, de Leon to Dillon, and de Lench to Lynch for instance. They became more Irish, often Catholic.
When the English came again, in the 16th and 17th centuries, some sided with the English and were rewarded. But others resisted and had lands confiscated.
Here are some of these Anglo-Irish surnames that you can check out.
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